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The Homeowner General Contractor – What You Need to Know

Image of man holding pencil over lit up image of engineering plans as he is considering diy home remodeling

We’ve read many stories over the years, and encountered quite a few clients, that have asked us whether it is a good idea, and whether they could save money, to General Contract (GC) their own home-project. With the rise in popularity of HGTV, the DIY channel, and many other sources, it sounds like a no-brainer for homeowners to jump onto DIY home remodeling . As we’re completely biased in this arena, we’ve decided to give you guys and gals a no-nonsense list of considerations to make your own decision on GC’ing your next home project.

Time

The size of your project has a lot to do with the amount of time required for a quality product. Smaller projects (decks, concrete, etc.) are often easy for homeowners to oversee and coordinate, whereas a full-home remodel, basement finish, or a full-blown flip are not. GC firms generally calculate 10–20% of the project duration to determine the amount of oversight they need to apply. Is 4 hours a week doable for you and your family? What happens when you hit the busy stage and have 8 sub-contractors that all require your time and coordination to get to the final product?

Cost Savings

Vigeo, like many remodeling firms, leverages its partnership with wholesale suppliers and sub-contractors to keep pricing competitive in the market. As a homeowner GC, you may not have access to these resources and can often expect that the sub-contractors you hire don’t give you the friends and family discount they would to a GC they’ve worked with for years. Keep this in mind as you’re deciding to GC your own project and be sure to price compare your time and materials vs. what your GC firm brings you in an estimate.

Experience

The number one reason we get in feedback for homeowners choosing a GC firm is the firm’s experience in a variety of project types. If you’re really unfamiliar with what’s expected in a bathroom remodel, pick up a book at your local hardware store on the topic, read best practices online, and review manufacturer recommendations for installation. This will help prepare you for your journey for DIY home remodeling and renovation. If you find the information overwhelming, it’s a good time to decide whether to buckle-down or give a GC a shot.

Priority and Stacking

One of the most difficult jobs of a General Contractor is knowing when sub-contractors need to be in working on your project, when they need to be out of the way, and who’s next up in the queue. Having a dry-wall team come in before the electrician is finished, or having HVAC in before power is run, are both examples of lost time and money. Make sure you run through your battle-plan to determine the areas of sequence and overlap and be sure to ask questions as needed. Not sure how long something should take? Use the best guess from those giving you estimates and take on 25–30% time. Be sure to ask what their pre-requisites are for the job to plan scheduling appropriately.

Connections

Those that have been in the game a while have a rolodex (can I still say that?…) of contacts that are both listed and unlisted from your favorite online contractor database. These are the guys that don’t require advertising because they keep busy through word-of-mouth alone. As a standalone GC without experience, you’re left to researching and interviewing each of your subs (which is very time intensive) or relying on sub-contractor recommendations. NEVER take a recommendation from a sub-contractor when you haven’t validated their own trade-craft (side-note!). If you still decide you want to GC your project without those connections, make sure you do your research, ask for references, pictures, and read reviews carefully. Keep in mind these may be close friends that have listed positive reviews.

Payment

This is a not-so-fun part of the job for any GC; paying your subs in a timely manner. Most contractors require a down-payment to purchase supplies in Colorado and will either invoice you at the end of the job or on a weekly basis, depending on the size of the project. Missing payments is a very good way to push your project off track. As a GC, if I miss paying a sub-contractor on Friday that’s been working with me for 20 years, chances are the check on Monday and a breakfast burrito are going to smooth things over nicely. As a home-owner GC, you’re going to be expected to be prompt and issues at the bank are a great way to have a half-finished project and a contractor walking off the job. This is something you definitely want to keep in mind as your own GC for DIY home remodeling and other projects you have planned.

Permitting and Inspections

The final consideration involved the legal requirements of your municipality. In Colorado, at least, a GC permit is usually a good way to transition risk for poor workmanship from the homeowner to the GC. If the homeowner IS the GC, and the sub-contractors build an unsafe home, that homeowner is still liable to the planning office for the quality of work. Although you may be able to recoup funds in court, you are still expected to have the work done to code, even if you’re not familiar with the IRC. Be sure you feel comfortable with this risk before you take on the GC role of your next project.

This post points out some of the leading considerations on whether you want to GC your next home renovation project or not. If you feel comfortable with the information above, then go for it! DIY home remodeling and renovation is an exciting and rewarding experience. If you’re uncomfortable with managing the aspects of the job required to complete a large project, shop around for a GC that is client focused, not easily upset, and gets your vision for your home. In the long-run, you’ll be grateful for that relationship and for knowing you’re getting the best outcome you can get. If you are interested in hiring a professional for your next home remodeling project, learn how you can financially prepare here https://vigeoconstruction.com/financing-home-remodeling-projects/.